When to our joy, on yester morn, a full pound twelve-pounder – LIBERTY was born… Whilst mother MOB, that steady wet-nurse, press’d the sturdy infant to her milky breast. – Richard Alsop, ‘Infant Liberty Nursed by Mother Mob’, The Echo, with other Poems, N.Y., (1807), pp. 7-8.
A rare and highly unusual example of American political satire from the first decade of the nineteenth-century. The print was engraved by William Satchwell Leney (1769 – 1831), an Englishman who had emigrated to America in 1805, after a drawing by the American artist-engraver Elkanah Tisdale (1768-1835). It was published in New York in 1807 and appears to have been issued in two separate states, initially as a bookplate within The Echo, a Federalist satirical journal edited by Richard Alsop, and latterly as a separate print in its own right. It was then republished the following year in Hugginiana, a political magazine named after the outspoken New York Federalist John Huggins. This copy carries the attribution markings for The Echo and came from the initial 1807 edition.
The print’s origins lie in the split that occurred in the Federalist movement following successive defeats in the presidential elections of 1800 and 1805. Disillusioned with the democratic process and locked in an increasingly bitter struggle with their Jeffersonian rivals, an outspoken group of Federalists began to call for moves to a more restrictive model of republican government. Their vision was one which was very much derived from the British model of constitutional monarchy, in which a strong executive ruled with the consent of a limited franchise drawn from the ranks of the wealthy and the educated. One of the most outspoken of their number was John Huggins, a New York barber and satirical author who put himself at the forefront of the battle with the city’s Republican fraternity. In 1808 he published a collected volume of poems, articles and caricatures (which included a copy of this print) that so enraged his enemies that it moved one Republican activist to storm into Huggin’s shop on Broadway and beat him with a heavy length of rope.
The imagery deployed will be familiar to anyone with a working knowledge of English political caricature in this period. The infant Liberty is being nursed on a diet of whisky and rum by the slow-witted and down-at-heel figure of Mother Mob, a prostitute whose latest customer appears to be dozing in the bed behind her. Two mean-looking republican devils in the guise of children stand next to her burning the statutes and copies of the US constitution. In the background we can see a mob tearing down a state building representing government. The print is arguably one of the most starkly conservative political satires produced in the United States during this period.
This print is currently available for sale along with a few other items of American interest. Please click HERE for more information.